Prison visits

We’ve been talking to Anton Shelupanov of the Innovation, Justice and Youth Programme at the Young Foundation about the social need surrounding the UK’s prison system.

He’s been helping us think about how technology could be used to support the families of prisoners coping with the experience of being apart from a loved one.

Take a look at the social need and what inspired us to tackle this issue. How could you help? What do you think would work? Add your suggestions for web tools which could tackle this problem below, or alternatively, you can always email us your idea if you want more space to explain.

The social need

The offender is not the only individual who has to learn how to cope with the experience of prison. Having a loved one incarcerated is also a dislocating and traumatic experience for their friends and family – all too often the system doesn’t make this any easier.

Prisoners often serve long jail terms in institutions many miles away from where their homes are. Visiting family members and friends who are spending time in jail can be very difficult for those on the outside, especially for those who have young children to look after or who have other financial or social problems.

Yet maintaining social ties with the outside world is really important, not only for the well-being of friends and family, but for the offender as well. Prisoners who have greater social contact with non-offenders whilst serving time in jail find the transition into life after prison easier and are less likely to re-offend, which is an important aspect of building a safer society.

The idea

To build a website or tool that creates greater access to prison visits and improves the experience of visiting someone in jail. It should provide better information about how the system works and what life is like for offenders inside. This could include:

  • A tool to help visitors locate and travel to and from prisons. This might include public transport information together with prison visiting times and a facility for planning journeys.
  • Information on child care support.
  • Could there be support specifically for those visiting prisoners who aren’t UK nationals?
  • Perhaps there could be something to help children who will be visiting parents in jail?
  • It should be accessible to people to don’t necessarily have frequent online access – could a mobile or text messaging service be incorporated?

What’s new about it?

The prison system is traditionally a closed and complex one for outsiders to understand. Opening up how it all works could hold considerable social benefit.

And this is not only of use to visitors – prison visits are also a challenge for prison staff. They are difficult to organise and can pose security risks. Some kind of web-based social tool which could facilitate information sharing between prisons and families would also help in preparing visitors for what to expect and make the whole process easier and less stressful for both parties.

Some further issues to consider

There are a couple of points to consider about the use of social media in relation to the prison system.

  • Access to technology within jails is very limited. Where there is internet access, it is extremely limited; typically there is no access at all. This initiative would be focused on visitors, community groups and potentially staff connecting with one another, rather than directly with offenders.
  • Anonymity for users of the tool is very important. Unlike most other social media tools, this would have to be a semi-closed system where people could feel comfortable contributing data in the knowledge that it was completely anonymised. Parts of the site might even have to be closed to the public.
  • There are also a number of security considerations surrounding the release of certain pieces of information about prisons, for example detailed descriptions of their floor plans or photographs of staff / prisoners taken without their consent. This puts restrictions on the type of user-generated content available on the site.

Any questions you have about what might be possible for this challenge should be added below – we’ll aim to provide the answers.

Comments 15 Responses to Prison visits

  • I’m really keen to assist in any way I can on this idea. I work at the Ministry of Justice and can facilitate introductions with prison service people. If you are interested let me know.

      |   February 28, 2008 — 1:42 pm
  • A useful model to look at might be patientopinion.org.uk – a service which allows patients to describe their experiences of healthcare. Not only useful for fellow patients but comments are fed back to hospitals too.

      |   February 28, 2008 — 2:24 pm
  • Sounds like a good idea Anton
    and I would be intrested in exploring this idea too

    there is already some material available on hmprisonservice.com that would help with the tool to help visitors locate and travel to and from prisons. However where I think you could develop this is to produce a Rough Guide – something that deals with the reality of travelling to and from a prison including information like you will need to take 2 buses or there is no taxi rank at the station – or the nearest car park is a mile and a half away – there are no toilets at the station etc
    Maybe you could link into the project mapping disabled facilities too?

    Your suggestion on Opening up how it all works – could this be done with some more “Virtual Tours” as on the hmp website but with the inclusion of more detail…

    And for both sides – those in and those visiting maybe some podcasts capturing the reality of what it is like waiting for a visit or travelling to a visit. Could also capture the Prison Officers side too.

    hmprisonservice link
    http://www.hmprisonservice.gov.uk/

    Lisa

      |   March 5, 2008 — 10:41 am
  • AlisonBeck

    I run the website for a charity, the Prison Advice and Care Trust (pact), where I have a page for each of the prisons we work at giving details of all sorts of stuff: how to get there, bus routes, what’s on offer at the visitors’ centre, opening times, prison visiting times, the visits regime at that particular prison, etc, etc. (www.prisonadvice.org.uk)

    However, we only work at a few prisons and it would be fantastic to see something nationwide that uses social networking software. User comments would be brilliant too!

    If I can be of any help with this project please let me know – our frontline staff are actually based at prisons and are in the know…

    Alison

      |   March 18, 2008 — 12:41 pm
  • I read the comment about limited internet facilities in prisons and it gets me thinking about how we can solve it. Back in the days when Members of Parliament were similarly deprived of technology, the FaxYourMP project acted as a gateway between the web-surfing public and the fax-machine-owning MPs.

    Perhaps a similar system could work here? You could send a message to a prisoner through the website, and it would either be faxed, or printed out and posted, to the prison?

      |   March 18, 2008 — 5:08 pm
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